Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Even Cancer Can Be Good

I have been blessed to be a fairly healthy person. I rarely have to go to the doctor. I walk a lot. I enjoy hiking the mountain near my home. Many people think I am ten years younger than I really am.

Imagine my shock when I found out I have cancer. Recently I had to go through a battery of medical tests to check out something I thought was minor. When I went back to the doctor to hear all the reports, I assumed he would say everything was fine. When he started talking, somewhere in the conversation he used the "C" word for the first time. As he kept talking, I realized what he had said and stopped him mid-sentence. "Are you saying I have cancer," was my shocked question. "Yes, but we think we caught it in the early stages," was his reply. And suddenly, my whole life changed.

In the two weeks since then, I have been poked, prodded, stuck, and tested more times than the rest of my life combined. I have had to drink nasty stuff to prepare for various procedures, take various medicines, and meet with doctor after doctor after doctor. I have surgery on Friday.

Being a planner who schedules out his life months in advance, this has played havoc with my carefully made plans. I had to cancel my participation in two back to back important conferences and adjust a whole month on the calendar to make time for recovery. Though I have done all that I could to prepare, I am extremely mindful that I am NOT in control of this situation. Which makes the whole experience overwhelming since I like to be in control. But one thing that keeps coming back to me is that God has this whole thing under control. God has not had to cancel any meetings or change any plans because this whole thing was on His schedule since before the foundation of the world.

Everything God does has a purpose and a plan, therefore, I know this is part of that purpose and plan. Romans 8:28 continues to come to mind: "We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose." All things, even cancer, work together for our good if we love God and are following His purposes for our lives.

I do love God, not because I am some super spiritual person, but because God first loved me (Romans 5:8, John 3:16). In God's wonderful grace He called me to Himself (Ephesians 1:4-5, 2 Thessalonians 2:13). How could I do anything but love God back once He opened my eyes to His amazing grace, love, forgiveness and divine plan? Since I love God and am called to His purposes, then God has committed Himself to making sure that everything that happens in my life ultimately works out for good. That brings a lot of comfort and peace into this very chaotic situation. Though there may be pain in the process, ultimately, this will all work out for good. I do not know exactly what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future, so I face Friday, and all that follows, with a confidence that it will be good.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Where is the Love? A Study of Love – Part 2

Last week my son-in-law wrote a guest post addressed two types of love. I wanted to follow up his post with a discussion of two other types of love. You can read Logan’s post here.

It often feels like we live in a world full of haters. Everywhere we look we see hate. It is on the nightly news. It destroys families. It ends friendships. There is no shortage of hate around us. Though we all want is to be loved but it seems like real love is harder to find than ever before.

God has a lot to say about love in the New Testament. The English word LOVE in the New Testament was actually 4 different Greek words, each symbolizing a different kind of love.

The Four Kinds of Love
                           στοργή – storgē
The love family members have for each other.
                           φιλία – phileo
The love good friends have for each other.
                           ἔρως – érōs
The love people have for each other when they are sexually attracted to each other.
                           ἀγάπη – agape
The love that is willing to sacrifice everything for someone else’s good.

In a previous post we discussed storgē love and phileo love. Just to review. Though those two types of love can be found in many place, the church is a natural place to learn about how to have healthy families and good friendships.

Now we turn our attention to the other types of love: érōs love and agape love.

ἔρως – érōs love
                           Eros is the Greek word used to refer to sexual feelings a person may have for someone else. This is the same word from which we get the word “erotic.”
                           Though many people think of sex was something that is dirty or bad, we must remember that God created SEX and at the right time and in the right situation this is a wonderful kind of love.
                           But in the wrong time and place and with the wrong person, this kind of love can really hurt. The reason that eros love can hurt is because each time we have sex we give a piece of ourselves away. We can never get those pieces of ourselves back, so when we give ourselves to the wrong people at the wrong time and in the wrong situations, it rips us apart.
                           Sometimes we feel like we love someone and so we give ourselves to them but then realize we did not love them after all. We both get hurt even though we did not mean to hurt anyone. Other times we find out that the person to whom we gave ourselves to never really loved us anyway and that really hurts. Even if they did love us at first, if they stop loving us, it can hurt too.
                           Why is it that we can be so sure we love a person at first, but later realize that we do not?
                           Typically girls think with their hearts, so they “feel” like they love some guy and give themselves to him. But after they get to know the guy better, their brain tells them he was not the right one after all. Girls need to learn to think with their brains first instead of their hearts.
                           Typically guys think with “something” a little lower than their hearts and they lust after a girl thinking that lust is the same as love. Most of the time once they satisfy their lustful craving, they realize they do not love the girl as much as they thought and the relationship ends. Guys need to learn the difference between lust and love, which also requires using their brains more than other parts of their anatomy.
                           This is why God gave us some rules about how to use eros love correctly. Many people think God gave us these rules because He is a cosmic killjoy who does not want us to have any fun. In reality, God was trying to spare us a lot of unnecessary pain and heartache in life.

How do we avoid the pain eros love can create?
                           1. Do not rush into sexual relationships too early.
                           Song of Solomon 3:5 - . . . . do not stir up or awaken love until the appropriate time.
                           Our bodies may be ready and willing at 11 or 12 years old, but emotionally we are never ready until much later. Our hearts may think we are ready after two or three weeks of dating, but rarely can we really know a person well in that length of time. There is a right time and place for eros love and when people rush into it quickly, it always ends badly. It takes time to really think, not just feel a rush of emotion. It takes time to know the difference between lust and love.
                           2. Keep ourselves pure until God gives us the one person whom will be our marriage partner for the rest of our lives.
                           Hebrews 13:4 - Marriage is honorable and the marriage bed is undefiled. But the immoral will be judged.
                           Sex is God’s wedding gift to each of us. When we give that gift to someone other than our spouse, something wonderful becomes defiled. If a person is not willing to make the commitment to marriage, then they are not yet emotionally ready for this kind of love. This goes against what our culture tells us, but as Christians, we are to follow a culture of the Kingdom of God, not of the world. The culture of the world has many ideas about eros love that are grossly inaccurate.
                           For example, one inaccurate thing our culture says about sex is living together before marriage. It is common in our culture for people to move in together before marriage as a way to test things out (60-70% of couples do this). However, statistics show us that this actually does not improve their current relationship nor the survival rate of their later marriage. Researcher Aaron Ben Zeev has stated that “Many studies have found that premarital cohabitation is associated with increased risk of divorce, a lower quality of marriage, poorer marital communication, and higher levels of domestic violence.” This is not a Christian study trying to prop up God’s standards for marriage. It comes from a secular source, yet demonstrates that God was right all along.
                           However, just having a wedding does not guarantee we will not be hurt by eros love either. Far too many people put a lot of time into planning a wedding, but very little into planning how their relationship will be after marriage. For eros love to work the way it should, we should spend time investing in storge and phileo love that we talked about in our last post. We must take time to become friends with a person and let them meet our families. If we cannot be good friends, how will we be good lovers? If we cannot work out our family issues before marriage, why do we think we will be able to after marriage?
                           Though each kind of love is different than the others, they are often intertwined in our minds and hearts so we can have the best relationships possible. Better to learn this truth now than later, and save ourselves a lot of heartache.

αγάπη - Agápē love
                           The final kind of love we want to discuss is agape love. The Greek word Agápē (αγάπη) is used to refer to a love so deep that it will sacrifice anything for the good of the other person. This is the kind of love that causes a parent to jump in front of an oncoming car to save his or her child. This is the kind of love that causes a person to give up his or her successful career to care for a disabled relative. This is the kind of love that causes a soldier to jump on a grenade to save his entire squad. Very few people ever achieve this kind of love toward others.
                           This is also the kind of love that God showed us by allowing His Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins.
                           Romans 5:8 -But God proved his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
                           Christ did not die for us when we were perfect and living right. Christ had already died for us while we were still mired in our sin. Christ knew what we could be, so He overlooked what we were and loved us in spite of ourselves. God’s agape love for us is so powerful that even if we have misused eros love, God still holds us close to His heart. God sees us at our worst and loves us anyway. Never question God’s love because God has already proved His love to us.
                           God is the essence of true love.
                           John 3:16 - For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
                           We must decide how we will respond to God’s love letter (the Bible) to us and how we will deal with His greatest act of affection toward us (the cross). Will we accept God’s love and make the commitment to love Him back? Will we allow God’s love to flow in us and through us and carry away the pain of our past mistakes? Only by accepting God’s agape love can we ever hope to show the highest level of love to those around us.

                           We can avoid a lot of pain in our lives if we follow God’s rules for using eros love.
                           Though all forms of love are important in our lives, understanding and receiving God’s agape love is the most important love lesson we can ever learn.
                           If we have not yet accepted God’s love, today is the day to repent of our sins, ask God’s forgiveness and commit ourselves to receiving and sharing His love.

                           If we have already done that but allowed our love to grow cold, today is the day to rekindle the fire of our devotion to Him.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Where is the Love? A Study of Love – Part One - Guest Post by Logan Loveday

Have you ever heard the popular song by Black Eyed Peas called “Where is the Love?” The question that song asks is one that many people ask. One reason we struggle to understand what love is, is that people often think that all love is the same. But to really understand what love is we have to realize that there are four different kinds of love. The New Testament reveals those different kinds of love through the use of four different Greek words.

The four kinds of love found in the New Testament:
                           στοργή – storgē
                           φιλία – phileo
                           ἔρως – érōs
                           ἀγάπη – agape

I just want to talk about the first two types of love in this post.

1.     στοργή – storgē love
                           This love is a “familial love” and is characterized by affection and the ability to transcend discriminating factors.
                           It is the love of parents toward their offspring and vice versa. Ephesians 6:1-4, Proverbs 22:6, Colossians 3:20-21, 1 Timothy 5:8
                           Many examples of family love are found in scripture: such as the love and mutual protection among Noah and his wife, their sons and daughters-in-law in Genesis, the love of Jacob for his sons, and the strong love of the sisters, Mary and Martha in the gospels, had for their brother Lazarus.
                           Family was a vital part of ancient Jewish culture.
                           In the 10 Commandments God charges his people to: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12
                           One great example of this type of love is found in the relationship of the prodigal son and his father.
                           Healthy families always love each other no matter what. They may disagree with each other and have different opinions, but they must continue to love each other.
                           Parents may not always like their children’s behavior, but they are always to love and care for their children. Parents may have to punish their children in order to teach them right from wrong, but they must never stop loving them. When children do not have this type of love, it influences all the other relationships in a negative way.

2.     φιλία – phileo love
·        This love is typically what you would find between friends and includes the strong bond and commitment of deep friendship.
·        Jesus had a lot to say about Friendship
·        John 15:12-15 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”
·        God gives us this advice when it comes to choosing Friends
·        Proverbs 12:26 “One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.”
·        Proverbs 13:20 “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”
·        Proverbs 14:6-7 “A scoffer seeks wisdom in vain, but knowledge is easy for a man of understanding. Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge.”
·        Proverbs 22:24-25 “Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.”
·        1 Corinthians 15:33 “Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals.”
·        If we have Phileo love, it will impact how we treat our friends
·        Luke 6:31 “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”
·        Romans 12:10 “Love one another with brotherly affection. Out do one another in showing honor.”
·        Ephesians 4:29-32 “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
·        Colossians 3:12-14 “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
·        Proverbs 11:14 “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”
·        Proverbs 17:17 “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”
·        Proverbs 19:20 “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.”
·        Proverbs 27:17 “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
·        This kind of love does not happen overnight. It takes both a commitment of time and work for it to develop. But as a friendship grows stronger, we develop bonds that last a lifetime. Once we have this type of love for our friends, we are often loyal to them even when they don’t deserve it.
·        Sadly, some people never develop this type of friendship and therefore they will never know phileo love.


Experiencing these two types of love is one of the reasons why it is important to be part of a local church. The body of Christ should be a healthy incubator for both of these types of love. Family love and friendship love should naturally spring forth in the “family” of Christ in which we have “brothers,” “sisters,” and eternal friends.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Staying Connected

All of us go through times in life when we feel lonely and disconnected. For most people, such feelings are a passing phase caused by something that resolves itself over time. But some people feel lonely and disconnected all the time. Though some people portray loneliness outwardly, many have become experts at hiding loneliness.

Regardless of how we act outwardly, inwardly we all long to feel part of a family, even if it is not a biological family. We desire to feel connected to other people and be part of something bigger than ourselves. But at the same time, because many of us have been hurt in past relationships, we are also cautious about entering into the very relationships we crave. This paradox creates relational challenges in our lives that if not resolved will keep us from forming deep and lasting friendships with others. We simply end up with a series of shallow surface relationships that never develop into anything of significant value. When we live our lives that way, it makes us feel disconnected, even though we may be surrounded by people and appear to have many friends. When we feel disconnected from other people, it also tends to make us feel disconnected from that “bigger than ourselves” thing we want to be part of. That can be a heavy burden to bear.

Jesus came to earth to help us become reconnected to other people and to feel connected to a God who is bigger than ourselves and has a plan for our lives. Though this world often seems like it is filled with chaos, God is working out His sovereign plan in a multitude of ways behind the scenes. For those who find connection with God, that sovereign plan always works out for good, though it may not feel like it in the midst of our daily experiences, and we find ourselves better connected to people too.

Though it may seem to defy logic, our spiritual lives and our relational lives are often wrapped up together. When we are more spiritually connected to God, we have better relationships with people. When we have better relationships with people, we often find it easier to engage in spiritual activities. Therefore, if we want to develop healthy relationships with others to meet our inner need, we must also develop our spiritual connection to God through knowing and understanding more about Jesus.

We can discover more about the life of Jesus by reading the four Gospels. The four Gospels tell us the story of Jesus from four different perspectives. As we read the Gospels, we begin to grasp the plan for how God the Father wants us to connect with Himself through His Son Jesus. Once we get connected to a God who is bigger than our own meager existence, we will find it easier to become more connected to other people.

So if we are feeling lonely or disconnected, let’s learn about Jesus and start reconnecting.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Connecting to the Congregation through Preaching

I preached my first sermon when I was 14 years old. Yep, that's a picture of me way back then. Admit it, I was handsome (in a nerdy sort of way!). I remember how scared I was to preach that day. I also remember that it was not a very good sermon. I covered the entire book of Revelation in less than five minutes. I like to think I have learned a lot about preaching since then and hopefully do a better job than my first fledgling attempt at sharing the Word.

One of the things I have learned over the years is how to "read" an audience. I can tell when the congregation is tracking with my sermon and understanding the truth I am trying to convey. I can also tell when they have checked out mentally and are no longer keyed into what I am saying. Most of the time whether they are tracking or not has a lot to do with how well I have prepared the sermon, both in the sense of studying, developing good illustrations and praying for the Spirit's power. But over the years it has become apparent to me that some churches are just more tuned in to the Word and hearing the Spirit speak than others. For example, I recently preached the exact same sermon to two different churches. It was a fairly deep topic. One church that I spoke at, which was in rural Connecticut, the congregation clearly understood the message. They got the point and it was obvious in how they reacted. In the other church, I faced mostly blank stares as I preached the very same words to them. In that situation it was not the sermon, but the hearers of the Word that made a difference.

Pastors definitely need to invest time during the week in study, application and prayer. But I think members of the congregation should as well. Hearts that are in tune with God daily through prayer and personal Bible study also hear the Word more clearly on Sunday. We need to teach our congregations to spend time in the Word themselves and not just expect the pastor to spoon feed them on Sunday morning. The pastor carries part of the weight of a good sermon, but so does the congregation. We need to help our congregation realize that if the pastor's sermons are a bit dry and just do not seem to connect, perhaps part of the problem is in the congregation, not just with the pastor. Fortunately, we have a God who can enable us to fix that as we study the Word daily and pray for God's wisdom in our lives.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Focusing Our Minds on Christ

Notes from my 3/9/2014 sermon at Faith Fellowship, West Hartford, CT.

The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the believers in Colossae to help them resist the influence of world. Part of that resistance is to shift our focus to Christ.

Colossians 3:1-11
1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Verse 1 - If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
               Everything Paul says in this scripture only applies to those who genuinely have been saved from their sins through faith in Christ.
               Therefore Paul begins with the word “If.”
               So much of scripture only applies to those who are believers so it is of paramount importance that we make sure we are genuine believers in Christ.
               Paul reminds us that IF we are genuine believers in Christ, then we should be seeking “things that are above.”
               What does “things that are above” mean?

Verse 2 - Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
               Notice the change from "seek" in verse 1 to "set your minds" in verse 2.
               This emphasizes the mental reorientation which new life in Christ requires.
               Paul uses the Greek word phronein (φρονεῖν) for the phrase “set your minds.”
               This word conveys the idea of devoting our whole mental activity to something, not just occasionally thinking about it.
               When we first begin to feel God tugging at our hearts, we begin to seek spiritual connection with Him.
               But once we find it, then we must set our minds on strengthening that spiritual connection for the rest of our lives.
               There are far too many Christians who are satisfied with just being saved. They do not realize that we are saved to SERVE and to continually DEEPEN our walk with Christ.
               If setting our minds on God means we have devoted our mental activity on Him all the time, not just occasionally, how do we realistically do that while we live real lives in a real world that could care less about Jesus?

Verse 3 - For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
               For us to be able to set our minds on the things of God, we must die to self. This is much harder than it sounds because we tend to like ourselves a lot.
               That is why Paul also talks about our lives being hidden in Christ. The Greek word for hidden is krypto (κρύπτω), which means to escape notice.
               Though our sins are many, while we are learning to die to self, those sins have escaped God’s notice because we are in Christ, that is what GRACE is all about. Thank God for GRACE!
               Not only has God forgiven our sins, but when our lives are hidden in Christ, when God looks at us, He sees Christ instead of us. Oh, what a glorious thought!!!!
               We may feel unworthy of both forgiveness and of this gift of Christ-likeness, and indeed, we are all unworthy, but that is what GRACE is all about.
               We  should not take GRACE for granted, but thank God for it every day and seek to live worthy of this wonderful gift we have been given.

Verse 4 - When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
               Theologically, this verse is referring to the return of Christ.
               When Christ comes back, we will be caught up into glory with Him.
               But there is an application that can be made apart of the theological meaning.
               Many people live their entire lives seeking glory, fame, prestige, respect, or honor for themselves. They live under the constant pressure of that endless pursuit of glory.
               As Christians we must get off of that high pressure road to self-glory and instead seek the glory of Christ in our lives.
               When people begin to see Christ in us, something amazing happens, we finally find the respect we sought all along.
               The great majority of Christians will never be famous, but as we live for the glory of Christ, we quietly change the world and will be remembered by those who come after us as being part of something big that God did.

Verse 5 - Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:
               Part of living for the glory of Christ is learning to put to death the things in our lives that take away from Christ’s glory.
               Verses 5-9 list examples of some of the things we need to get rid of in our lives.
               Lists like this help us think of specific attitudes or actions we should try to eliminate from our lives.
               But we must not focus on the list itself, because another person could make a completely different list that would be just as valid.
               It is not that we should ignore such lists, but the point Paul is making is that if we set our minds on Christ, then such lists will automatically be dealt with in our lives.

Verse 10 - . . . put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator
               Paul is trying to shift our focus from the bad things we should not do, to the good things that God wants us to do.
               We often get hung up on lists of dos and don’ts, when we should be trying to have a renewed knowledge of Christ.
               We cannot have a renewed knowledge of Christ if we know little about Christ.
               WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) sounds great, but for far too many of us, we do not have a clue what Jesus would do because we have not invested enough time learning about and focusing on the life of Christ.
               As we learn about the life of Christ, our minds are renewed and out of that sense of renewal, we can change our behaviors and actions to be more like Christ.

Verse 11 - Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
               The church in Colossae included people from a wide variety of backgrounds.
               It was very easy to focus on people’s backgrounds instead of their position in Christ.
               The ground is level of the foot of the cross and as we focus on Christ alone, our backgrounds and social status melt away.
               In the end, Christ is all that matters, so let us focus our minds on Him and watch our lives change as we do something BIG for God.

               We must make sure we are genuine Christians in order for the spiritual life to be of any benefit.
               We must focus our minds on Christ in order to become what God wants us to be.
               We must thank God for His grace as our sins are hidden in Christ and the righteousness of Christ rests on us while we get our minds focused.

               We must learn as much as we can about Christ and turn all the glory back to Him in order to do something big for God.